So, I initially emailed Tom and briefed him on the game/theme's status as a well-loved classic in the LEGO community, our progress in modding it, and the various finds regarding LEGO Logic and such, and basically asked if he had any info he could add to this. Boy, did he ever!
Holy cow, what a great email! I’m glad we have fans.
Yes: it was originally called LEGO Logic and the team was called T.I.L.T. Digital Domain (DD) was coming off the heels of making Barbie Fashion Designer for Mattel, which make boatloads of money (it kept the company afloat while they were doing special fx for Titanic). So DD decided it would be a “digital toy” company. It pitched 5 concepts to LEGO Media – LEGO racers, a virtual LEGO set, LEGO robot builders, a LEGO adventure, and then to round out the list, they threw in a half-baked idea to build wacky Rube Goldberg type contractions – similar to the popular game The Incredible Machine. LEGO already had a number of the other ideas in development but they loved the contraption-builder concept, so that’s what they chose.
The initial idea was to freely mix-and-match themes. So the team consisted of a chef, a gymnast (Flip), a magician, a mad scientist with bouncing powers (Dr. Pogo – our idea was that LEGO would produce a rubber mini-figure instead of hard plastic), and a marching band musician (Major Minor). The chef would flip things in his frying pan; the gymnast would provide spinning motion; the marching band musician would provide forward motion, the magician could teleport things from one spot to another. There were probably other team members – my memory is fuzzy. We had a lot of characters in the game at one point. I recall a “motor” that was a cowboy sitting at his campfire. If something lit his fire, he’d start cranking his spit. So he functioned as a fire-activated motor. The worlds included places like Aromazona, Mt. Fridgy (home to the Neanderthaws – those unfrozen cavemen-type creatures you referred to), Poodle Dreamland, and more. Bill Benecke did the concept art and may still have some of it. I’ll see if he can dig some up and share it. It was really fun.
We were fairly far into full production – animation, building out the worlds, starting to build puzzles – when LEGO Media flew myself and the senior producer to their offices in London to present what we were doing. They hated it. The mix-and-match aspect just didn’t fit in with how they market LEGO themes. We were pulling bits and pieces from themes targeted at 5 year olds, 8 year olds, boys, girls, etc. They told us they wanted to completely revise the idea to base it around a “Mission Impossible” style “Spy” team. Keep it all very blue and black and “boy” oriented. More of a focus on cool gear and gadgets. So we threw out 90% of what we had developed … keeping TeeVee and Evil Ogel … and created Cam, Dash, Crunch, and the rest. It was a bit rushed – we had eaten up a year and a half of production heading in the wrong direction – but all things considered, I think it came out pretty well. I think the abbreviated schedule necessitated cutting the moon base and the mountain hideouts. I’m not sure how developed those ever were though.
If I can find some old files I’ll share them with you. I’m still in touch with a number of the guys who worked on the project too, so I’ll forward your email.
Thanks again for the great email.
So yeah, my jaw dropped. I sent an email back, thanking him for the details, and also linking him to and as examples of what fans have done with the theme. He loved them, and added that he's gonna try to dig up some more LEGO Logic and Alpha Team development stuff sometime. He also had an amusing little anecdote to share:
A funny anecdote: When we redesigned the characters, we had a hard time getting Dash’s character design approved. I finally told the character designer to just make him look as much like the LEGO Executive Producer (Tom Gillo) as possible. Tom loved Dash’s new look—having no idea we were trying to make Dash look like him—and the character design was promptly approved.
He also mentioned where some of the other developers are at now, and what their current projects are:
The two main engineers, Bob Soper and Thomas Miller, went on to work at SONY. They were heavily involved in the God of War series. The Executive Producer on LEGO’s side, Tom Gillo, works for Sony Europe and oversees development of Sony Kinect games. Bill Benecke, who designed the characters and devices, now works at Mattel as a toy and action-figure designer. I’ve mostly worked for LeapFrog for the past 10+ years producing interactive books. LEGO Alpha Team was super fun to work on. Great team. Fun work environment. Loads of creative freedom … until the boot came down those last six months and we rushed to revamp the whole product. Immediately afterwards, Digital Domain shut down their interactive division and laid-off the entire department, so the project has always been tainted for me by that. But you’ve reawakened some nostalgia for the good times we had making that game. Thanks for that.
He then forwarded my email to Bill, who added the following:
This is just flat- out wonderful- I never suspected that there would be dedicated fans of Alpha Team, or that they were able to piece together so many bits of what we worked on!!!
Alpha Team was one of the niftiest projects I’ve worked on, and probably the biggest in terms of my career where I look at the designs for our first version and feel a strong dose of “what if…?” tinged with a lot of “if only…!”- especially when I think of Roller Toaster! And Ol’ Blue Ice! And the Neaderthaws! And, yes, Poodle Dream Land.
You’ve really brought a huge smile to my face with this- thank you ☺
And Bill's email reminded Tom of more specific details of LEGO Logic, and then things started really coming together:
His email jogged my memory a bit:
The very earliest concept for LEGO Logic was that the things we take for granted in our homes: refrigerators, dog bowls, toasters, are actually powered behind the scenes by incredibly complicated contraptions and loads of mini-figures hard at work.
The look and feel was very much akin to Diddy Kong Racing, or Crash Bandicoot, or Banjo-Kazooie: brightly colored surreal worlds, with fun bosses to defeat. Evil Ogel was meant to be the final boss. As I said, this wasn’t just preliminary concept work: quite a bit of actual production (modeling and animation) was done along these lines before it was all scrapped for the “spy” theme.
Mt Fridgy was a “snow and ice” freezer environment that included a lot of frozen foods: pizza boxes as platforms, ice cream tubs, things like that. The Boss was “Ol’ Blue Ice” and the Neanderthaws were frozen in blocks of ice. If you defrosted one, he’d starting walking in a forward line, swinging his club.
The Roller Toaster was a roller-coaster “hot lava” environment. Roller coaster cars that looked like slices of bread would ride the rails and get toasted by hot pools of lava. The boss was King Crusty.
Poodle Dreamland took place inside a dog pool. It was shades of pink and lavender, with topiary trees, and giant doggy bones. The boss was a killer poodle named Flea-Flea.
Aromazona was a world of giant flowers, inside a flower pot.
I'm so darn happy right now.
Thanks for all the great emails. I’ve forwarded them to the rest of the team. They really made everyone’s week.
Glad you liked the game—good to know there was fans! It was a lot of fun to make. And of course we’re all very happy it spawned a popular LEGO theme.
Oh man, you guys aren't gonna believe this stuff... Tom and I talked quite a bit via email today, and Bill Benecke (the concept artist guy) got involved too. They're really great guys, both very friendly, and were happily surprised to hear the game has fans. Here's the rundown.